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Part One of series on Sabbath, related to Genesis 2:1-3
Sabbath practice is a core practice of the soul; rest, quiet, slowing, appreciating, blessing, enjoying, celebrating, intentional remembering and focusing, valuing, re-creating
Genesis 2: 1 – 3
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.
For the Word in Scripture,
For the Word among us,
For the Word within us,
Thanks be to God.
Breathe. That’s all.
Let’s all take a breath together: inhale…….exhale.
Two more: inhale………exhale……… inhale……… exhale.
It’s a cycle, isn’t it?
Both parts are important.
On the seventh day, God rested, says the first Creation story. We just heard that in our morning’s Scripture reading. What you didn’t hear was that the Hebrew word for refreshed “vaiynafesh” literally means exhaled. The Hebrew text is saying that on the seventh day God exhaled. Our culture is more inclined to inhaling, to taking in; do more, want more, gain more, be more, take in more information, more data. Being busy can even be seen as a sign of importance.
But are our lives busy or full? Did you know that the Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ combines heart and killing. The Christian mystic Thomas Merton actually went so far as to equate activism and overwork with violence.
Are our lives structured not just to inhale, but to exhale?
Do we know how to exhale and rest in the arms of God, in the cradle of Creation?
A big part of the first Creation story in Genesis is the teaching of the importance of Sabbath to the Jewish community. It was a characteristic practice to stop all work on Friday at sundown when the traditional Jewish day ends and to enter into Sabbath time until the next sundown. There is a story told of Jesus walking with his disciples on the Sabbath. They plucked some heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees, who tried to protect the people’s piety and to respect Torah law through lots of rules, accused them of sinfully breaking the Sabbath. Jesus’ wise response was that the Sabbath was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath.
So how can Sabbath as an exhale be for us?
How might we learn from and be served by this teaching?
In the Lenten journey at this church, we have been invited to seek being Full to the Brim. I suggested at our Ash Wednesday service that, like our cycle of breath, we cannot be vital and ‘Filled to the Brim’ without the whole cycle. Likewise, we cannot be whole and vital without rest. And our first sacred story of rest is the Seventh Day story of the first Sabbath, the first great exhale.
I’m not talking about a return to dour restrictive rules of Sabbath that drain life; no dancing or card playing or visiting with people or frolicking and such. I’m talking about the wisdom and the necessity of exhaling in the service of the cycle of life. Go ahead, inhale fully again and then feel a long exhale again. Let it bring you to rest and ever closer to stillness.
Exhale, that’s Sabbath.
It completes the energy cycle of life, re-balances it.
In that first Creation story, we are given an image of the earth as without form and void. It is a kind of chaos that seems empty. Creation happens out of a kind of emptiness. We have to exhale in order to make room for the inhale. The womb has first to be an emptiness in order to be filled with the growing creation of a new life. This emptiness is not so much a denial of life as it is a letting go and a letting be. It is a kind of re-balancing. In our human body, it is a chance to blow off CO2 as a part of our life-giving cycle of respiration, in preparation for bringing in more O2. The first Creation story begins in emptiness and ends in a kind of emptying, a resting, a stillness, an exhale, a Sabbath.
Like a hibernating animal, like a planted bulb or seed in winter, there is an appropriate and necessary time to rest, to lie fallow, to not do.
I was trained as an exercise physiologist after college. It is a basic principle of exercise training that the process of becoming more fit and healthy requires rest after we challenge and exercise the body. It is in the rest time that the rebuilding to a better state happens.
How many of us trust that cycle?
How many of us here are practicing Sabbath rest?
I’m not talking about just laying down on the couch, although that could help. I’m not talking about kicking back and watching TV, although some quality viewing occasionally is renewing. We are invited into a Sabbath space and time that has a sacred intention, a certain quality of delightful exhale that puts us back in touch with the blessedness of Creation, the part of the first Creation story when God says, “It is very good”.
Pastor Jane Anne, before her recent sabbatical suggested that all church committees take time in our Lent season meetings for forms of Sabbath, not doing tangible committee work, but sharing in Bible study, prayer, and connection. She was inspired by the book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, in which Wayne Muller suggests we embrace “Sabbath as a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity.”
Our worship celebration here could be a Sabbath practice if it helps us remember who we truly are…
as images of God made of the dust of the stars,
as humble mortal beings of made of mud,
as a people called to Grace and to justice,
as part of a wondrous Creation with other wondrous Creatures and features.
Our worship celebration or any practice that we have can be a Sabbath practice if it slows us down enough, focuses us enough toward Spirit that we remember and feel again in our bodies and souls the Grace of God and the gift of life. Any practice could be a Sabbath practice if it truly re-creates in us a sense of rest, renewal, gratitude and connection to the GodMystery. It doesn’t have to be Saturday or Sunday, or a particular ritual or prayer, though those things might help.
In our Gospel stories, we often have Jesus going not toward the people and crowds, but, after his healing work, away from them to solitude and prayer. One way to translate what is translated as prayer is “to come to rest.” Jesus had the practice. He went to rest and renew. (And the disciples came after him, “hunted” him some translations say.)
It’s not that Sabbath time is superior to work time.
It’s that our work time is served by the wisdom and energy of balance and wholeness, Sabbath rest and its intention to be in a different way of being serve balance and wholeness. The spiritual paradox of this Sabbath rest and not doing is that it does create in its own way. The Rabbinic tradition says that on the seventh day God created menuha; tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose. The Jewish tradition also says that on the Sabbath we are given an extra soul, Neshemah Yeterah, a Sabbath soul which more fully appreciates the blessings of life and the fruits of our labor.
How are we nurturing our Sabbath soul?
I watched my Dad for years come home from work, empty his pockets and often change his clothes. It was a simple ritual of shifting from work to home. Now, I love the moment I get home and empty my pockets of keys, cell phone, and all the things I use in the outside world of work and marketplace. I empty my pockets and exhale. This can be a Sabbath moment on any day if I use it to really slow down, breathe, and pause to appreciate the gift of the day, of life, of the whole Mystery.
And even if you are not working outside the home, or are not ‘doing’ as much as you once did, you are not exempt from the call to Sabbath, for it is possible to fill all our not doing time with things that don’t help us exhale, rest, and renew in the whole-making Spirit of the Divine.
That’s because Sabbath is not just a time or even space that we reserve. It is also a quality of presence or consciousness. It is effortless, nourishing rest. It is stillness that can produce a unique kind of renewal and insight. It is an awareness, a return to perspective, a sacred perspective that is about depth and delight, about re-balancing and re-creating, about remembering and feeling that we belong to God, to the Mystery, and that we are to love ourselves, each other, and all Creation.
There is a poem by Jane Kenyon that may help us feel into Sabbath time and space. The poem is related to the traditional Jewish day beginning in the darkness right after sundown.
Let Evening Come
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
As we continue in a Lenten journey of becoming Full to the Brim, I invite to us to remember that there are rhythms and cycles that make for life, ultimately, that make possible our coming back to acting for compassion and justice, to acting in service and offering a helping hand. No matter our age or stage, in our lives and in our culture, we can distort those rhythms and cycles and then distort and compromise the life force that sustains us and Creation, not allowing ourselves or the Earth to exhale, to rest, to renew.
God exhaled on the seventh day, resting and savoring the blessing that is Life. Today, the sacred invitation is simple. Remember the Seventh Day and exhale. AMEN
J.T. comes to Plymouth as an experienced interim pastor, most recently, as Bridge Minister at University Congregational UCC in Seattle. Previously, he served congregations in Denver, Laramie, and Forest Grove, Oregon. Read more